Roche taps Icagen in neuro drug discovery deal worth up to $274M

Durham, North Carolina-based Icagen was snapped up by Pfizer in 2011 for $56 million and spun out four years later through a deal with service provider XRPro Sciences. (Roche)

Roche and Icagen have inked a licensing and collaboration deal around ion channel modulators for neurological disorders. The duo did not disclose Roche’s upfront payment or research funding, but Icagen stands to receive up to $274 million in development and commercial milestones. 

The pair will work on small molecules using Icagen’s platform for ion channels, focusing on a specific ion channel target expressed in neurons. Under the deal, Icagen will handle preclinical work up to lead optimization, after which both partners will work to identify candidates to move into IND-enabling studies. Beyond that, Roche will be responsible for any development and commercialization of program. In addition to the potential $274 million in milestones, Icagen will also pick up royalties if the partnership yields a commercialized drug. 

"Roche has a great track record of partnering with biotech firms in addition to unique development expertise and a strong global commercial presence,” said Icagen CEO Richie Cunningham in a statement. “This collaboration is a great example of combining Icagen's depth and expertise in ion channel drug discovery with the therapeutic area and developmental expertise of a company like Roche to enhance the likelihood of identifying meaningful new therapies." 

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RELATED: Post-Pfizer Icagen pairs up with Aptuit for drug discovery 

Durham, North Carolina-based Icagen was snapped up by Pfizer in 2011 for $56 million and spun out four years later through a deal with service provider XRPro Sciences. Since then, it has struck a number of deals—with Aptuit, AMRI and Bayer, to name a few partners—and acquired a research site in Arizona from Sanofi. 

The deal comes shortly after Roche dumped a handful of in-licensed programs in its phase 1 and phase 2 pipeline, as part of its third-quarter cleanout. This included partnered programs with Xenon, Array BioPharma and Novimmune, all of which date back to at least 2011. The cull denied some biotechs the chance to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in milestones, but those potential payouts could find their way into the pockets of Icagen, GO Therapeutics and Ionis. Roche licensed an anti-cancer bispecific antibody from GO in October for $9 million up front and a potential $186 million in milestones. As for Ionis, Roche handed over $75 million upfront plus as much as $684 million in milestones for its RNA-based drug for advanced dry age-related macular degeneration and other diseases.

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